Bryn Terfel as Méphistophélès and Simon Keenlyside as Valentin in ‘Faust

Bryn Terfel lords it over 'Faust' magnificently


There’s a great deal to disapprove of in Gounod’s Faust. It breaks down a pillar of western literature and whisks up what remains into a flouncy French fancy. It turns the hero’s famous striving into mere lust — for a… Read more

Amanda Roocroft as the Duchess in ‘Powder Her Face’

Mixed results from the ENO and ROH in their seasonal away games


It’s been a spring tradition for several years now for English National Opera to present small-scale productions in various venues around London. But this year the Royal Opera followed suit, heading across the Thames to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse… Read more

Emily Magee as Empress; Johan Botha as Emperor © ROH / Clive Barda

The snobbery and sweaty brows of watching opera in the cinema


I remain puzzled that, so far as I know, no daily or weekly paper carries reviews of the New York Met opera relays (I’m not a denizen of the blogosphere, where they may well swarm). To judge from the number… Read more

Ariodante at the Royal Academy of Music

Handelian pleasures vs modern head-scratchers


Opera seems almost always to have been acutely concerned with its own future. These days this is most often manifested in occasionally desperate, sometimes patronising attempts to entice new audiences to the art form. A new three-way initiative between Aldeburgh… Read more

Emily Magee as Empress; Johan Botha as Emperor © ROH / Clive Barda

The Royal Opera House's Die Frau ohne Schatten – a dream solution to Strauss’s problem opera?


If ever an opera was weighed down by its creators’ joint ambition, it is Die Frau ohne Schatten. Richard Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal quickly began to imagine their third true collaboration, produced during the 1910s but not… Read more

Smitten: Jason Bridges (Armand) and Sarah Tynan (Manon) in ‘Boulevard Solitude’

Opera's fallen women


Opera’s grim fascination with ‘fallen women’ — as Welsh National Opera has called its latest mini-season — lies largely in the spectacle of the fall itself. But in Hans Werner Henze’s Boulevard Solitude, the composer’s 1952 operatic debut, the heroine… Read more

Kelly Cae Hogan (Lady Macbeth) and Béla Perencz (Macbeth)

ENO's Rodelinda: near-perfect singing, perfectly gimmicky direction


I wasn’t going to write about Handel’s Rodelinda, wasn’t even intending to go, but thanks to the kindness of the press office at ENO I did, and it was so marvellous that I can’t resist expressing my delight. Not that… Read more

Clean-voiced and suave: Mark Wilde as the balladeer Jonny Inkslinger in‘Paul Bunyan’

Why is Tippett's King Priam so difficult to love?


The difference between lovable, likable and admirable is perhaps more significant in the operatic world than in other artistic spheres — and is often, alas, translatable directly into all-important box-office receipts. The most ambitious production in English Touring Opera’s spring… Read more

Rigoletto performed by The English National Opera at the London Coliseum

Rigoletto in a gentleman's club


So it’s farewell to the fedoras and adieu to the jukebox. After 32 years of service, Jonathan Miller’s Little Italy staging of Rigoletto has been given the heave-ho by English National Opera and replaced by a younger model. First seen… Read more

Gwyn Hughes Jones as des Grieux with Chiara Taigi as Manon

Manon Lescaut is twerking — should we applaud or shudder? 


Last seen clambering over the MDF wheelchair ramps of Laurent Pelly’s Royal Opera House production of Jules Massenet’s opéra comique, Manon the minx, the ‘sphinx étonnant’ of Abbé Prévost’s 1731 novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut,… Read more

Hell is other people: Mariusz Kwiecienas Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni at his unsexiest


Every time there’s a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni I have to ask the same question: why is this opera, which 50 years ago was considered an unqualified masterpiece and an invariable success in the theatre, now always a… Read more

The Voice of Firestone (Photo: NBC/NBCU)

Your best YouTube operatic experience ever


Anyone who frequents the internet will have come across YouTube and soon learned that what may have been planned as a quick information-seeking visit turns into several happy hours, as tempting suggestions are made as to what you might also… Read more

Evelyn Herlitzius as Elektra Photo: Matthias Creutziger

Leipzig and Dresden are both staging Elektra. Which city wins?


Yet more performances of Elektra, Richard Strauss’s setting of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s ramped-up, neurosis-riddled 1903 reworking of Sophocles, are unlikely to force any anniversary-year reassessments of the composer. But the piece’s current ubiquity does reflect the fact that we’re now… Read more

Elektra at the Royal Opera House (Photo: Clive Barda/Arena Pal

Overrated Strauss vs underrated Gluck


This is the first of my more-or-less monthly columns, the idea of which is to report on operatic events other than those that take place at the two major London venues, with occasional trips to those areas (i.e., everywhere other… Read more

Ben Johnson and Devon Guthrie in The Magic Flute (Photo: Robbie Jack)

The state of opera today (it's not good)


I’ve been hoping that in this, the last of my weekly columns on opera, I would be able to strike a positive, even cheerful note on the present and future of the art form, but honesty compels me to say… Read more

Parsifal, Royal Opera House

Parsifal has anxiety, rage, near-madness — unfortunately the Royal Opera's version doesn't


Debussy’s description of the music of Parsifal as being ‘lit up from behind’ is famous; less so is Wagner’s own remark to Cosima that in his last music drama he was trying to get ‘the effect of clouds merging and… Read more

Daniel Harding Photo: Andrew Siddons

Should we watch the second act of Tristan und Isolde (without the first or the third)?


There aren’t many operas from which you can extract a single act and make a concert of it, in fact I can’t think of any except ones by Wagner. I’ve been to Act I of Die Walküre, Act III of… Read more

Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera House Photo: Getty

Opera review: The Barbican's Albert Herring was a perfect evening


Of this year’s three musical birthday boys, Wagner has fared, in England, surprisingly well, Verdi inexplicably badly, and Britten, as was to be expected, has received the royal treatment. No one could have predicted, though, that the culmination of the… Read more

‘Butterfly’ tapestry by Alison Watt on the loom at Dovecot Studios, 2013

Weaving the colours of music 


One loom, six metres in length, currently dominates the great, light-filled weaving hall of Edinburgh’s renowned tapestry workshop, Dovecot Studios. At its side sits Master Weaver Naomi Robertson, threading yarn from countless dangling bobbins between and around taut vertical strings,… Read more

Agrippina, English Touring Opera

Baroque opera shows vicious people can sometimes be happy — and we're glad they are


Visits by English Touring Opera are always to be looked forward to, but this autumn it has surpassed itself with three baroque works, two of them masterpieces and the third a fascinating rarity, all performed by casts of astonishingly high… Read more

Ben Johnson and Devon Guthrie (Photo: Robbie Jack)

The ENO's Magic Flute ignores everything that makes Mozart's opera great


A new production of The Magic Flute is something to look forward to, if with apprehension. How many aspects of this protean masterpiece will it encompass, and how many will be neglected or distorted? The answer, in the case of… Read more

Simon Keenlyside and John Tomlinson in ‘Wozzeck’

Keith Warner's Wozzeck doesn't make me as angry as it used to


When Keith Warner’s production of Berg’s Wozzeck was first produced at the Royal Opera, nine years ago, it made me more angry than any that I had ever seen. At its first revival in 2006, my response was milder, though… Read more

Outstanding portrayal: 
Alan Oke as
Aschenbach in
Opera North’s
production of
‘Death in Venice’

If 'Greek' is playing within 200 miles of where you live — watch it


This week chanced to give me a fascinating study in contrasts and comparisons: Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek at the Linbury Studio, Britten’s Death in Venice at the Grand Theatre Leeds. Two English operas from the latter half of the 20th century,… Read more

Lianna Haroutounian as Helene

I hope you spotted the epic 'existential struggle' in Les vêpres siciliennes — I didn't


Verdi’s Les vêpres siciliennes is his least performed mature opera, even in its more familiar version as I vespri siciliani. So mounting it with a top-ranking cast and an interesting production is just what the Royal Opera should do in… Read more

Fight to the death: Onegin (Mariusz Kwiecien) and Lenski (Piotr Beczala)

Michael Tanner: With seven scenes, Eugene Onegin really doesn't need any more pauses


This year’s live relays of New York Met performances have a markedly Slav flavour, with Shostakovich’s rare The Nose next up, and later Dvorak’s Rusalka and, most interestingly, Borodin’s Prince Igor. It kicked off with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, the most… Read more

Die Fledermaus: dramatically not a success, but musically enjoyable

A Fledermaus worth seeing for all its inadequacies


Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (but if it’s given in English, why not The Bat? Does that somehow sound too unglamorous?) is not only the greatest operetta ever composed, as everyone agrees, but also, in my view, a great work, to… Read more

Michaela Schuster (Klytämnestra) and Christine Goerke (Elektra)

A sensational week for opera: sensationally good and sensationally bad


It’s been a sensational week for opera in London, with a sensationally good performance of Strauss’s Elektra at the Royal Opera, and a sensationally terrible production of Fidelio at English National Opera. Charles Edwards’s production of Elektra is revived for… Read more

Beguiling: Lucy Crowe as Susanna

Why do people talk such nonsense when describing opera? American Lulu and Le Nozze di Figaro reviewed


Why would anyone want to adapt Berg’s Lulu, a masterpiece even if a problematic one? According to John Fulljames, who is the producer of the version of Lulu that Olga Neuwirth has come up with, ‘the Lulu plays now stand… Read more